Thursday, November 05, 2009

Watching the politics on H1N1

Three items here...

1. First, the federal government is leaving the provinces hanging out there, waiting for any word from the federal government on vaccine supply: "Provinces claim to be out of H1N1 vaccine loop." They're trying to plan, to deliver on the ground. What do they get instead from the federal government? They're kept in the dark until the Prime Minister himself "unexpectedly" delivers news of the number of doses to come in the next week:
The supply of H1N1 vaccine available for next week is expected to be 1.8 million doses, the federal government said Wednesday, something which came as unexpected news to some provincial health authorities who have been eagerly awaiting that number.

Under attack from the opposition parties in the daily question period over the unpredictability of the vaccine supply, Prime Minister Stephen Harper shared the estimate and said the next shipment will mean more than eight million doses will have been delivered to the provinces and territories.
But according to Ontario's chief medical officer and assistant deputy health minister, they had received no official word on what the national total vaccine supply is expected to be for next week, or what their province's share would be, and they appeared to be caught off-guard by the prime minister's public announcement.

"We have not received any confirmation from the federal government yet as to how much vaccine we're getting, at all. We have received no numbers," said Dr. Arlene King, chief medical officer for Ontario, at a news conference Wednesday. "It's a very important number, how much we get, in terms of planning. We wait eagerly to hear how much we're going to get next week, and when."
Silly chief medical officer. Doesn't she know that such information is political gold to be meted out in priority partisan circumstances? I mean, doesn't she know it's more important for the Prime Minister to be able to fend off political opposition in the House of Commons with this information, first and foremost, before medical officials have the numbers? So that he can appear engaged in the file? Does she not know how things roll in Harper's Canada? What does she need official confirmation and "numbers" for anyway?
Only finding out with a few days notice how much vaccine will be supplied is making it difficult for provinces to determine when they will be able to open their immunization programs to the general public. Since programs began on Oct. 26, most provinces have been targeting high-risk groups.
Oh, yes...

2. Despite much hoopla being made in trying to blame the former Liberal government for that sole-supplier contract with GlaxoSmithKline in 2001, leaking the contract and all to CTV, the Harper government has ignored internal government pandemic planning that pushed for multiple suppliers of a vaccine in circumstances such as these. The recommendation was staring them in the face:
As far back as 2004, the federal-provincial plan for combating a potential pandemic warned Canada to seek more than one supplier of vaccine - advice that wasn’t followed in the run-up to this week’s countrywide shortages.

With one parliamentarian already believed to be suffering from H1N1, opposition Liberals Wednesday pointed to the February 2004 Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan, which laid out a painstaking strategy in case an international health emergency closed borders and endangered vaccine supplies from abroad.

“Canada has invested in a domestic supplier to offset this possibility,” the plan says, adding, “however, it will not be known whether this supplier will be able to produce enough vaccine for the entire target population in a timely manner the possibility of multiple suppliers should be considered in the planning process.” The recommendation is still part of the official pandemic plan in 2009, but the Conservative government placed an order in August for all of Canada’s H1N1 vaccine from a single company, GlaxoSmithKline.
The Conservatives didn't follow the pandemic advice on the books. Probably because they apply a partisan lens to all former government advice before Harper time. The B.H. era ("Before Harper") is inherently suspect to this government. Even in such objectively non-partisan things as pandemic planning. As they point fingers elsewhere, their dismissal of such research is worth keeping in mind.

3. One last point, not on the politics, but a direction to the HarperBizarro blog where some pretty significant accountability questions are being asked about the Harper government's actions on another issue raised this week. Why have we been sending vaccine overseas due to a lack of packaging capabilities? When did the government become aware of these packaging problems? June?
In June, officials considered getting the excess bottled somewhere else but decided against it.
Why? And knowing about those packaging problems, why did they not take that into account when switching production from adjuvanted to non-adjuvanted vaccine on the production line at GSK?

All very good and important questions that should not be lost while the Harper Conservatives try to play p.r. management of the issue and point fingers elsewhere.